Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cabinet Office press releases cost around £3000 each?

Apparently the Cabinet Office employs eight press officers at a cost to the taxpayer of £475,000 per year. Now I don't know whether that is excessive or not, the Cabinet Office does quite a lot I imagine, so figuring out if it's excessive the best I can really offer is to look at their output for the last year.

From the beginning of January 2006 to date, assuming their website is correct, those eight press officers have issued a grand total of 150 press releases, with my lowly B grade GCSE maths, I work that out to be approximately 18 press releases each (or about 1.5 a month).

If one assumes that press officers - for the most part at least - do press releases, then that works out to approximately £3166 per press release. Now some people may think I'm being unfair, press officers also answer the phone and field press enquiries for their money.

Perhaps someone can tell me how busy the Cabinet Office press office actually is though, because even if they received a hundred calls a day, that still means the cost of their employment compared to their press release output is rather high no?


Anonymous said...

I thought Press Officers did more than just write press releases, don't they accompany Ministers to events, organise parts of events and write content for the website etc?

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how busy the cabinet office are, but I don't think trying to quantify them by the number of press releases they put out tells us much, other than the cost per press release as you've done. Which still leaves us at point zero. Sort of.

And again, including the number of calls in can break down the cost further, but again you're left with a load of figures that would appear to indicate some things.

To put this in some kind of context, I know about half a dozen or so press officers who aren't overly prolific with their output, but when they send a release its usually worth taking time to read it. The releases are usually well written and don't leave me with too many questions on it that need clarification from their end. And if I need information on certain points, have a request, or need to find somebody for comment on a certain point they'll often as not get back to me with exactly what I need.

These press officers are worth their weight in gold. If you broke down costings by calls and press releases it may seem high. If you took into account the help and communication they provide it would probably come out as good value for money.

I also know a couple of press officers who churn out an endless stream of releases that would provide good cure for insomniacs, leave me no clearer after I've read it and are, frankly, it would be easier to draw blood out of a stone than put any kind of request in. Often these press officers just end up being bypassed unless absolutely necessary.

Again, break this down by cost and it would seem like they're highly productive, but the number of phone calls taken probably relate to the number of people clarifying basic points.

So, oddly, the better the press officer the lower their paper output should do, as a rough rule of thumb. If the PO's are the former kind I've described rather than the latter I'd say they're definitely earning their crust.

I've done a very small amount of PR on the side - if you're going to write a decent press release on a particular issue then allow 2 days to make sure everything's tied together and will make the journalist drop what they're doing immediately. If you're sticking on events to this - photoshoots, etc, then you're adding on more preparation and the time's likely to vary but will take a while. Add on time spent inbetween for off-diary queries from journalists and it soon adds up.

So if each PO is doing 1 and a half press releases a month, and each month, we'll assume for the sake of convenience, is 4 weeks that's around 10ish a month, which is about 2 a week, which is a steady trickle of info.

Without giving any figures to test that against, and only from my own experience, that's probably below average but not excessively so. It's certainly not a quiet department by any means so in terms of productivity, and assuming they probably have a lot more event management and organisation to deal with, that doesn't look like there's too much wrong with that figure to me.

I would, though, be interested to see exactly how busy the cabinet office POs are and what the job descriptions are; that might shed a bit more light on if they're value for money.

As for evaluating them for hands-on usefulness, as I've never had to come into contact with them (as least not as far as I know).

One question though. Is the 475k figure the total cost of their combined salaries? As using my maths (which isn't great) that comes out not too far away from 60k per press officer. Which is about 10k more than I'd have thought it would be for an average to high earner in that area working for the government. If we assume that they're not earning the same that could mean you've got one or 2 individuals who might be on nearer 70k.

For that money, they'd either have to be in the job since they left school, have shedloads of experience and/or be utterly bloody brilliant at their job.

Fahrenheit said...

Hmmm, not sure what to make of this one.

Normally I'm on your side Dizzy, but this time I'm afraid I've got to back the press officers.

There are three that work with me (and I've met many others) and I've always found them to be some of the hardest-working, most highly skilled people in Whitehall (yes, I know that sounds a bit 'special olympics' ;-) but they often have good private sector backgrounds too.

They do a lot more than writing press releases. They work with officals and ministers on 'lines to take' whenever there's a new policy announcement. They brief anyone in their Department who has to do a media interview (including ministers, who do loads of them). They scan all media (including blogs) for any mention of their department's policies and brief the right people. They also field questions from journalists (hundreds of them a day sometimes) and manage extensive PR work - either directly or via contracts.

They tend to be very very busy, and generally pretty competent.

The one bit of this that does sound a bit scandalous is the price.

If I saw an eight person press office team I would expect to see: one Grade 5 Director (salary about £65-75k), 2 Grade 7 heads of particular media types (about £40-55k each), 3 SEO/HEO press officers (£25-35k each) and 2 administrators (£20k each).

That gives a total of £260-330k on salaries. Expect on-costs (pension contributions, employer National Insurance, etc) to be about 30% and you've got a total cost of about £338-429k per year. Not a million miles away from their figures but still pretty steep, and the estimates I've given are a 'most expensive case' scenario - given that Cabinet Office is a high profile department - even these are pushing the boundries of what aught to be necessary for them.


dizzy said...

Unusally for me I know, but I did concede that I might be being unfair.

Chris Paul said...

Other comments are correct. This lot of comrades will have their hands full reactively responding to fairly routine stuff caused by their 150 releases. Also proactively and reactively managing press relations. Also dealing with specific crises. Also probably speech checking and clearing. Also fixing and nixxing media appearances etc etc etc.

This calculation is rather like calculating a production line workers team value by how many rear bumpers they fit each year on a line with eight grafters and various machines. And forgetting the other 158 components they also assemble.

159 is made up for number of car assemblage's assembled. Please no flaming for that.

Anonymous said...

Hah, Dizzy only got a 'B' in GCSE maths.

All point at Dizzy and laugh.

dizzy said...

and proud because I didn't do any work.

Alex P said...

Def Would say Press Officers being judged on releases is an unfair measure of their activity. Apart from anything else, one well considered release which genuinely benefits the public is worth far more than x number of poor quality efforts spammed out simply to satisfy ministers.

dizzy said...

You should sign up to the Goevrnment News Network.